July 6, 2022

Seven burning storylines to keep an eye on at the 2022 NHL Draft

The 2022 NHL Draft is upon us, and with it comes a return to a sense of normalcy in the hockey world. 

The Montreal Canadiens will take center stage, both literally as the hosts at Bell Centre and figuratively as the team that holds the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft. 

This year, not unlike others, seems to have a ton of storylines to follow that can contribute to a potentially wild opening sequence on the draft floor. From the No. 1 debate to wildcard eligibles to teams owning multiple first-round picks that could be in play, the stage is set for a lot of activity amongst the 32 NHL clubs. 

Will it be Shane Wright or Juraj Slafkovsky? How far, if at all, does Brad Lambert slide? Will the situation in Russia affect the draft stock of some of that country’s top prospects?

There are a ton of interesting wrinkles in this year’s draft and we will soon find out the answers to some of the most intriguing questions surrounding this year’s event. The draft is set to start Thursday night, with the remaining rounds taking place Friday.

So, before things get crazy, here are seven of the biggest storylines to follow during the 2022 draft: 

Who goes first overall in the 2022 NHL Draft?

A month ago, it seemed like a virtual lock that Wright would be the first selection in this year’s draft, but when Bob McKenzie released his final rankings with Slafkovsky atop his list the hockey world — bettors included — feverishly began debating who the Canadiens will take when they are on the clock. 

Montreal has a brand-new regime at the helm, one that seems to be hellbent on making a splash at this year’s draft, especially with their organization hosting the event.

What will they do with all eyes on them? 

“Despite the big push at the end by Slafkovsky, I still believe that ultimately Montreal goes with Wright at first overall,” FCHockey scout Brandon Holmes said. “It’s difficult to win without strong center depth, and the selection of Wright would give Montreal two key building blocks down the middle with Wright and Nick Suzuki.

Montreal has been longing for a true No. 1 center. But they’re also a team desperate to grab a big impact forward that can help tip the future of their franchise into the right direction. 

Will they go with Wright, the guy who has been atop most people’s lists since September? The Canadian player who can blossom into a star in one of the feverish hockey markets in North America? Or will they swing big and take Slafkovsky? The winger who has dominated international competition for Slovakia and looks like a potential star in the NHL?

We won’t have to wait long to find out.

How far does Brad Lambert fall?

Lambert, No. 9 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2022 draft, was once highly-touted and a potential threat to be in the equation for that the No. 1 pick over a dozen months ago. Fast-forward to today and his draft status is a complete wildcard.

Lambert has all the tools to become a high-impact NHL player but struggled to carve out a consistent role in Liiga both with JYP and Pelicans during his draft year. Now people are wondering if he will fall out of the top-10, top-20, or even further.

“If he ends up being one of the top five players to come out of this draft I won’t be surprised,” FCHockey scout Derek Neumeier said. “At the same time, I also wouldn’t be surprised if a team selected him high but then he dramatically underperformed expectations. His skill is undeniable, but can he actually translate that skill in a way that works in the NHL? That’s the question.

In his brief World Juniors stint, Lambert looked like a dominant player against his own peers and more like the player scouts were previously clamouring over. Is his game better suited for North America, or was it just a quick flash in the pan while playing against his peers?

Where Lambert ends up and how far he slides in the first round might be the most intriguing story of the first round. With his pedigree and upside, he could end being a potential steal depending on long he was to wait to hear his name called, or a potential bust.

Nemec or Jiricek?

While the battle for the first overall pick is gaining a lot of hype, there’s another debate happening atop the first round. David Jiricek and Simon Nemec are the top two blueliners in this year’s class, and both have made formidable arguments to be the first defenseman off the board.

Jiricek, ranked fifth, has the size and physical traits that will appeal to NHL scouts on top of having a high-end skillset that could allow him to blossom into a top-four defenseman and an NHL mainstay for the next decade-plus. Nemec, ranked fourth, has been a vital member of the Slovakian National team this season, setting records in his country’s professional league all year long. He too has impressive physical stature and the all-around pedigree that should profile him as a future star in the NHL.

“I lean toward Nemec narrowly,” FCHockey scout Joshua Frojelin said. “His offensive ceiling is comfortably higher than Jiricek. After the first three picks, I see a drop-off in this class. Therefore, I would want my team to select the higher upside player in Nemec. Jiricek is a solid player, I just see him as a two-way defenseman who will play top minutes alongside a dominant player. Nemec has potential to be a dominant player.”

The scouting community seems completely torn on who deserves to be selected first, and the storyline will be atop many people’s lists of things to follow on Thursday night.

The Russian factor

The Russian factor always comes into play when debating the first-round of the NHL Draft. Some of the top prospects often have long-term commitments that hinder their ability to come to North America as quickly as team’s want. 

This year is a little different. While the same factors come into play, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the detainment of Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov for allegedly dodging the country’s draft are two linked issues that could give NHL clubs pause.  

Will teams shy away from Russian prospects in the first round? Will they take potential late-round prospect completely off their board considering the many unknown factors that may come into play?

While top Russian prospects Ivan Miroshnichenko and Danila Yurov, among others, have made it to Montreal, it remains to be seen where and when they go given the tension happening in the world.

Miroshnichenko’s draft stock

Speaking of Miroshnichenko, his storyline is very intriguing. Once a high-end first round pick, the powerful, skilled forward looked a little off over the course of the season and was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in March. The announcement made clear why his play on the ice looked so different than the year before.

Having completed treatment and his health improving, does he have what it takes to his prior form? Does the health concerns, coupled with the Russian factor come into play when team’s are debating where to take him?

We are talking about a potential top-10 talent in this class, and it will be interesting to see where he’s drafted and what he does this upcoming season.

The sub-par goaltending pool

In year’s past we’ve been spoiled with high-end goalie prospects. Spencer Knight, Yaroslav Askarov, Sebastian Cossa, and Jesper Wallstedt have all been sure-fire first-round selections in recent years. The 2022 class doesn’t boast anyone similar. In fact, this year’s pool of puck-stoppers might not even produce a second-rounder, with Tyler Brennan slotting in at No. 96 as the highest-ranked goaltender on FCHockey’s draft board. 

“It wasn’t the greatest year for Brennan, but he’s got that prototypical size teams are looking,” FCHockey scout Curtis Schwartzkopf said. “Given the lack of depth at the position this year, someone will take a chance around here.”

There are two storylines to follow surrounding the goalies, and that’s when will the first goalie go and what round will they go in? Will it be Brennan, the top-ranked goaltender on FCHockey’s board at No. 96? Reid Dyck, who is ranked No. 120 ? Hugo Havelid, a longshot at No. 156? Someone else altogether.

With no definitive No. 1 goalie in this class, how soon will team’s feel comfortable enough to take a chance and draft one of the goalies on the big board.

USNTDP Poised for a massive draft

In 2019 the USNTDP set a record with 17 players selected directly from the program in the NHL Draft. That group featured the likes of Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, and more.

This year’s class has the potential to tie or even break that mark, and possesses a ton of top-end talent that could challenge the record for most first-rounders taken. Players like Logan Cooley, Frank Nazar, Cutter Gauthier, Rutger McGroarty, Ryan Chesley, Isaac Howard, Seamus Casey, Lane Hutson, and Jimmy Snuggerud are all potential names to watch on the first day of hte draft. 

Other names from this year’s roster include Marek Hejduk, Cole Spicer, Charlie Leddy, Brady Berard, Dylan Silverstein, Kaiden Muir, amongst the group, that have the potential to be plucked in 2022. 

The 2019 crop was loaded with talent and the fact that this year’s group has the potential to match their draft results speaks volumes about the strength of the 2022 roster.

These storylines, and more, will all come to a conclusion over the next two days in Montreal.

More are certainly to follow as we embark on the 2022 NHL Draft. 

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